Zuckerberg will testify before Congress, but won’t go to UK parliament

28 Mar 2018

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. Image: Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg accepts that Congress testimony is inevitable.

The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is to testify before Congress about the Cambridge Analytica scandal within a matter of weeks.

However, as we reported yesterday, Zuckerberg is understood to have declined UK MP Damian Collins’ request to appear before the UK House of Commons’ parliamentary select committee on digital, culture, media and sport, offering instead either chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer or chief product officer Chris Cox.

Future Human

Collins said that, given the serious nature of the allegations being made around the access to Facebook user data, it would be appropriate for Zuckerberg to appear before the committee, even by video link.

In the meantime, it is understood that Facebook officials are preparing a strategy for Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress.

Big tech needs to provide answers

Zuckerberg faces a grilling over how so-called political consultancies or influence brokers were able to gather data on 50m users from Facebook and then use this data to sway election or referendum votes.

Yesterday (27 March), the whistleblower at the centre of the scandal, Chris Wylie, told the UK House of Commons that it was “incredibly reasonable” to assume that marketing software and tactics used by Cambridge Analytica contributed to the Leave campaign’s victory, setting Brexit in motion.

Wylie also alleged that technology made by Palantir, a firm founded by Peter Thiel, was used on the Facebook data harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

In the US, lawmakers will be keen to understand if the data used by Cambridge Analytica also helped tip the surprise election of Donald Trump as president of the US in 2016.

Cambridge Analytica is a subsidiary of Strategic Communications Laboratories, and was founded by US hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, the former political adviser to Trump who masterminded the 2016 election campaign, and former executive chair of Breitbart News.

The backlash against Facebook has sparked the #leavefacebook movement, and pressure from politicians, the media and the public will require Zuckerberg to do a lot more than take out newspaper ads, as he did in the UK at the weekend.

Zuckerberg’s appearance in Capitol Hill will be pivotal in helping to understand what happened and just how safe your data really is, as speculation over how tech is influencing our lives spirals.

It will likely will put pressure on Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to also appear before Congress, as Senate chair Chuck Grassley has officially invited the three CEOs to appear at a hearing on 10 April.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. Image: Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years